The prolific painter

Anthony Montanino at ACG

Anthony Montanino, “Hooker,” oil, 2001.

Anthony Montanino, “Hooker,” oil, 2001.

Like many dedicated artists, Anthony Montanino has always painted. For some, like Montanino, it’s a lifestyle—it’s what you’ve done for as long as you remember and will continue to do in the future. This kind of commitment often yields productive results. The continuous working process means that tangible pieces are finished and paintings start to pile up. Montanino, however, goes beyond the norm of the dedicated productive artist; he turns out so many quality paintings in such a short time that you wonder how anyone could be this prolific.

Montanino got off to a good start early in life. He attended Encina High School at a time when well-known local artists Jack Ogden and Gary Pruner were instructors. With this kind of talent spurring him on, it was easy to get excited about painting and know that it was OK to spend countless hours devoting time to it. He continued, studying at CSUS under the direction of other talented instructors, and the process of painting became a part of him.

He’d be doing all kinds of landscapes and figurative work similar to his present approach, but it wasn’t until he started playing and enjoying music that a spark of inspiration hit Montanino and his figurative work took a turn. “I did that one 30 years ago,” he remarks, pointing out a painting of some blues musicians hanging on his living-room wall. “It was the first one that I did of musicians.” Then he started to bring out the pieces that are in the show that opens this weekend at the Artists Contemporary Gallery. The exhibit, titled Night Hawks, features 27 of the artist’s latest pieces involving the subject of blues and jazz musicians, most in a live club setting. As the work started to fill the room, his passion for music came as alive as the paintings themselves.

Montanino began playing music in the mid-’70s and has been playing since. “Playing live is a thrill,” he acknowledges, “and to translate that into two-dimensional artwork is equally exciting.”

Working from black-and-white photos of some legends of the genre, then sketching out and rearranging compositions, is often how Montanino gets started. Once on canvas, the paintings take on color and light that is all his own. Montanino plans out each step carefully and methodically, but his expressive and loose style keep them from being stiff or calculated. Instead, the paintings read as though he were standing in the back of a small jazz club 50 or so years ago and painting them on the spot.

What’s interesting about Montanino’s work in this vein is that they are so carefully planned out. It’s hard to imagine how many paintings he has done in the last year, let alone in his lifetime. Most of the 27 pieces in this show were created in the last few months. That they aren’t done in single bursts of inspiration is incredible. Montanino works on about six or seven at a single time. He doesn’t let himself labor or dwell on each one as he goes, because he wants to keep them spontaneous and fresh.

How, then, does an artist who spends this much time and energy with his work produce so much so fast? Easy. Anthony Montanino paints all the time. He works a part-time job in the early part of the day, then he comes home and paints, which is what he does practically every day until one, two or three in the morning. He sleeps a couple of hours, then gets up and starts all over again.

So what does it mean to be so prolific? Well, you do stay pretty busy, for starters.